By Jon Lane
Nothing like an inning of work to change perceptions yet again. Joba Chamberlain threw a scoreless inning – of relief – on Sunday, needing only seven pitches (five strikes) to retire the side in order while hitting 95 on Tropicana Field’s gun. Of course, that has the Loyal Order of Joba to the Bullpen firing the cannons.
I’m not complaining. A good debate, even one with the legs of a marathon runner, keeps the comments and message boards thread lit up, which is good for us! My take though is forget about Chamberlain’s future for this week and the rest of this month. The Yankees’ solitary goal is first winning the American League Division Series. If right now he’s most comfortable and productive throwing out of the bullpen, put him there and worry about this starter-reliever stuff all winter and into next spring.
The Yankees’ will announce their ALDS roster no later than tomorrow. Every indication has Francisco Cervelli making it as the third catcher, insurance in the event Freddy Guzman runs for Jorge Posada and subsequently Jose Molina suffers an injury. That means the Yankees will carry 10 pitchers. If Chamberlain makes the cut, Chad Gaudin and Brian Bruney are out.
Here’s how the roster will stack up with 10 pitchers and 15 position players:
Jerry Hairston Jr.
There are those who favor Ramiro Pena over Guzman. Understandable, but Hairston fills the utility role and brings more experience. Plus, Guzman will be deployed solely as a pinch runner. That extra element of speed is extremely important. The Yankees have a weapon in Brett Gardner, but bottom of the eighth or ninth and Jorge Posada in scoring position, you’re taking him out for Guzman, the only player who’d keep up with Gardner stride for stride.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees have rallied to win games 48 times this season, 14 via the walk-off hit, the team’s most since doing it 17 times in 1943. Joe Girardi feels that belief system was born during the memorable May series against the Twins, when three of the first four games were won on the Yankees’ final at-bat.
“I think there’s that feeling that you can always do it, because we’ve done it so many times,” Girardi said. “When guys have confidence, they’re different players. There’s no doubt about it. When you have success in situations, guys learn how to relax. The more success you have, the more you relax. That’s what allows guys to do that.”
Brett Gardner – that X-Factor – was once again in the middle of it. Not since Homer Bush in 1998 have the Yankees been able to deploy such a weapon.
“It’s just another way that you know you can win a game,” Girardi said. “It’s a great element to have as a manager. In these close games there’s always a spot where you look for him to be able to do it.”
Good for Ian Kennedy, a good guy who’s had some tough luck and is coming back from surgery to remove an aneurysm. Kennedy pitched three perfect innings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Durham in the International League finals Wednesday, striking out six.
By Jon Lane
Reputations in New York are made during crunch time. This is why many
people are demanding Alex Rodriguez, a three-time MVP, to show them
something. It’s also the biggest reason why the Yankees were hell-bent
on signing CC Sabathia.
This is the time of year when Sabathia demands the baseball and once he
gets it, he’s must-see television. While others wilt under the hot
August nights, September spotlight and Red October, Sabathia has proven
he’s capable of carrying an entire team – a whole franchise – on his
He’s doing it again. Thursday night in Seattle, Sabathia allowed a run
on three hits in eight innings with 10 strikeouts – at the time of year
when it’s critical not to overwork a bullpen, especially with Sergio
Mitre and Chad Gaudin starting this weekend. Sabathia is 5-1 with a
2.98 ERA in his last six games and has surrendered only two earned runs
while whiffing 19 over his previous 15 2/3 innings.
I wrote in March that the fate of the 2009 Yankees rests on Sabathia.
We’ve seen this season that everyone from Sabathia to A.J. Burnett,
from Melky Cabrera to Ramiro Pena to Francisco Cervelli, has
contributed greatly. The difference is that if the season is down to an
elimination game, it won’t be Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright or Javier
Vazquez on the mound. Sabathia’s 19 wins and 209 strikeouts in 241
innings pitched won him a Cy Young Award in 2007 and the way he carried
the Brewers to the postseason the following year was more than enough
to convince the Yankees he’ll handle New York in the biggest of spots.
“Check his track record, bro,” said Nick Swisher in April. “That’s it. Check his track record.”
? Mere hours after the Yankees used five relievers and won a 15-inning
classic over the Red Sox, Sabathia allowed two hits, walked two and
struck out nine in 7 2/3 innings, tying his season high of 123 pitches,
and didn’t allow a runner past second base.
? He’s 31-9 career with a 3.14 ERA lifetime in August, 18-2 in the last
four years and lined up to start the finale of Yankees-Red Sox a week
from Sunday in Boston.
? Those numbers in Milwaukee following his trade from Cleveland: 11-2
with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, his last four coming on three days’ rest.
The day the Brewers clinched a postseason berth, Sabathia tossed his
10th complete game, the most in one season since Randy Johnson threw 12
There’s one big blemish: He’s 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five postseason
starts, the last a Game 2 NLDS loss to the Phillies when he was raked
for five runs in 3 2/3 innings. That was his fourth on three days’
rest, which won’t happen with the Yankees. There’s no need to carry
this team, not with an MVP candidate (Mark Teixeira) an ace riding
shotgun (Burnett) and one of October’s best performers (Andy Pettitte),
but Sabathia will do it because he wants to. It’s one of two missing
pieces of his baseball life.
By Jon Lane
Crazy eights. Kangaroo Courts. Walk-off fever. CC’s electricity. All of this and more have defined the Yankees’ current eight-game winning streak. This will not last forever, contrary to a colleague’s belief that this team will never lose again, but I reiterate what I wrote yesterday. Don’t be afraid to enjoy this. The way the Yankees have been going about the business of winning is refreshing. For the first time in a long time, the players are acting like kids, which is what you’re supposed to do while playing a kid’s game.
The Yankees are also proving that they’re a team of Guardian Angels. There’s been enough bad press about the faults of the new Yankee Stadium, and how much money the team spends and asks of its fan base every year (folks, it’s not how much money you spend, is what you do with the money you have). Not enough people (if anyone) talk about the the impact the Yankees have on people who are sick and dying, especially children.
Last season, a reader e-mailed me with a favor to help arrange a visit with the Yankees on the field at Camden Yards for a seven-year-old boy with an inoperable brain tumor. The team’s media relations staff went above and beyond to create an amazing experience for young Jake Hill. The players stopped to take pictures, and sign baseballs, shirts and his field pass. Jake lost his battle in January, but that day in August created a large enough smile to carry him through a fight of which everyone knew he was a winner.
Last Friday, Brett Gardner’s visit with Nico Viglitti, a cancer patient at New York Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in Manhattan, earned plenty of coverage. Nico made Gardner promise he’d hit a home run that night against Twins. Gardner did – his way, an inside-the-park homer. I’m told Gardner cannot visit her again until she’s out of ICU and every day he checks his messages for any updates on her condition.
During yesterday’s pregame show, Kimberly Jones did an unbelievable interview with Polly Tompkins, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer. Listen closely to her encounter with Derek Jeter. I’ll make you laugh and tug at your gut.
Another anecdote just passed on to me: The Yankees received a phone call late Friday night from a New York City police officer whose son has leukemia and was looking for someone to visit him. Francisco Cervelli not only volunteered, he had each of his teammates sign a baseball before seeing the boy. And yesterday, Jonathan Albaladejo and Ramiro Pena visited children from the Collegiate Elementary School, an independent school for boys in New York City.
The moral of the stories is how every player, especially the young core, has been doing their part each day to serve as Guardian Angels. This happens around the league and it’s great, but the Yankees’ efforts aren’t publicized enough in a media market that devotes two pages to a fist pump.
By Jon Lane
“Friday is the day when everyone gets their motivation and energy back.”
– ‘Vice’ the coffee, bagel and danish vendor, 15th & 9th, Manhattan.
Nothing like a nice late-spring Friday morning to get you going and fill you with optimism. Our Steven Goldman, who can be a tough critic, gives props to the Yankees for taking two of three games from the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees haven’t gained traction yet, but there are reasons for hope. They have won 4 of 6 and are home for 10 games. CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are looking like, well, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera, and the team has received surprising contributions from Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli.
Just like that, people are feeling good about the Yankees again. It’s truly amazing how in baseball the story changes every day, even every hour. Wasn’t two weeks ago when the Mets were declared finished because they lacked an “edge?” Last I looked they’re 10-3 this month.
“It’s a nice little shift for us,” said Joe Girardi. “This is something that you can build on.”
Back at .500 and trailing the Blue Jays by 4 ½ games, the Yankees face the Twins, Orioles and Phillies these next 10 days. Lots of baseball left to be played, but the time is now to take three of four here, two of three there – if not compile a winning streak. Girardi’s bunch wants to be both winning and fully healthy by the time they tackle the Rays and Red Sox from June 5-11.
Onto a few random thoughts hours before Alex Rodriguez test drives the new Yankee Stadium tonight against the Twins (YES HD, 7 p.m.).
- Big start for Phil Hughes, 0-2 with a 17.49 ERA after silencing the Tigers for six innings on April 28. Good or bad, I see Hughes headed to Triple-A if Chien-Ming Wang pitches well in his second rehab start for Scranton on Sunday and cleared medically, but a strong effort would be one of those “nice problems to have” and build Hughes’ confidence back up. There are people who are still expecting Hughes to throw zeros every time he pitches. Yeah, he gave up eight runs, eight hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings – the shortest start in his three-year career – last Saturday in Baltimore. Many are tempted to declare him a bust who will never live up to his promise as a first-round, can’t-miss prospect. He also turns 23 next month. What’s the rush? Not every youngster makes an immediate impact. Let him get more work at Scranton and allow him to mature as a pitcher. Then we can evaluate.
- Big day for Xavier Nady, out since April 15 with a partially torn elbow ligament and rehabbing in hopes of avoiding a second Tommy John surgery. Nady will swing a bat this afternoon and provided he feels no pain is hoping to begin a Minor League rehab assignment before the end of the month. The plan is for Nady to be a DH and ease him back into the outfield. Where that leaves Hideki Matsui is another story for another day. For Nady’s sake, let’s hope we have a chance to debate it.
- A-Rod is excited to play in his first game at the Bronx Mahal (© Chris Shearn). He’s 3-for-14 since returning last Friday, but hasn’t missed an inning. Look for him to be the designated hitter and for the home crowd to provide a nice response. Hometown fans have high thresholds for players who admittedly or allegedly dabble in PEDs (just ask Barry Bonds’ loyal following). Only if A-Rod continues to not hit or fails in a big spot will boos grow long and loud.
- Sabathia’s last two starts: 2-0, 17 innings, two runs, nine hits, five walks, 13 strikeouts. The left-hander got the Yankees going on the road with a complete-game, four-hit shutout in Baltimore, overshadowed when A-Rod hit the first pitch he saw over the left field fence, but also healing balm for an appalling 2-5 homestand.
- Cervelli (.316) has been impressive at and behind the plate, writes Tyler Kepner. At this rate it’ll be another one of those “nice problems” once Jose Molina is eligible to come off the disabled list.
- How great has Johnny Damon been? The reigning American League Player of the Week has at least one extra-base hit in 10 consecutive games, matching a single-season franchise record held by Don Mattingly (1987) and Paul O’Neill (2001). He’s 18 for his last 42 (.429), with at least one run scored in those 10 games. River Ave Blues analyzed Damon’s run and desire to stay in the Bronx once his contract expires at the end of the season.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli was optioned to Double-A today after the game. Chris Shearn has more from Tampa.
Tonight’s lineup vs. Reds (YES HD, 7 p.m.)
Brett Gardner CF
Johnny Damon LF
Xavier Nady RF
Hideki Matsui DH
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Juan Miranda 1B
Angel Berroa SS
Ramiro Pena 2B
Some random takes about the Yankees and around the league:
- Maybe the idea of Brett Gardner as the Yankees’ everyday center fielder is not so crazy after all, writes John Harper. The Yankees’ Brett the Jet, is batting .381 (6-for-21) with a team-leading three home runs, four RBIs, six runs scored and two stolen bases in eight games. Conversely, Melky Cabrera is batting .278 with two homers and two runs scored. Of course, there remains a ton of time in Spring Training, and Gardner may easily flame out by April, but here and now he provides elements the Yankees need and Joe Girardi loves: hustle, guts and grit.
- Anthony McCarron is following Francisco Cervelli’s ride with Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, which knocked Canada out of the tournament and plays tonight in an elimination game.Cervelli received nice compliments from hitting coach Mike Piazza. Yet I still wonder why he chose to play in the tournament instead of trying to make a lasting impression on the Yankees. Jorge Posada’s shoulder issues won’t have closure until he proves he can resume the full responsibility of a starting catcher. Besides, he turns 38 in August and his contract runs out after the 2011 season. It’s never too early to start thinking about the future. It’s not Jose Molina and it may not be Jesus Montero.
- Incidentally, I’m enjoying the WBC. And I’m now a fan of Juan Carlos Sulbaran. Pitching for the Netherlands, the Reds’ 19-year-old Single-A prospect came on in the sixth and whiffed Ivan Rodriguez on three nasty pitches. Later, Sulbaran got Carlos Beltran to ground out with the bases loaded on a 3-2 pitch. It’s do or die for the upstart Dutch team tonight when they face a Dominican Republic group out for revenge, but win or lose, Sulbaran will be around for a long time. Years from now, a Reds rotation of Sulbaran, Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez and Homer Bailey will be scary good.
- Don’t look now, but Angel Berroa is 9-for-18 with two homers and five RBIs in eight games. Cody Ransom is 6-for-20 (.300) with an RBI in eight games. Berroa, though, has played all of one game at third base (in 2007) and has hit no higher than .270 since being named AL Rookie of the Year in 2003. Ransom’s the guy to play third in Alex Rodriguez’s absence. He’s more versatile and reliable for the long haul.